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In Turkey, pope calls for dialogue with Muslims

Pope Benedict XVI, beginning the most politically precarious journey of his papacy, called Tuesday for an "authentic dialogue between Christians and Muslims" to help stanch terrorism and conflicts around the globe.

The pontiff, trying to assuage the hostility he provoked in September when he quoted a medieval Christian emperor who associated Islam with violence, said he wanted to use his visit to Turkey "to reiterate my great esteem for Muslims."

Few papal tours in recent years have been more ambitious in their efforts to patch religious rivalries or more fraught with the danger of inciting deeper divides than Benedict's four-day, three-city Turkish itinerary.

Instead of the crowds of emotional faithful that greet traveling popes on most of their foreign excursions, Benedict was met with empty highways lined by soldiers and sharpshooters.

Vatican and Turkish officials scrambled to make last-minute schedule changes in an effort to avoid appearances of slights. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who initially said he had no time to see the pope, squeezed in a 20-minute visit. The pope, who has alarmed some Muslims with his plans to visit Istanbul's Haghia Sophia - built as a church in the 6th century and later converted into a mosque - added the Blue Mosque to his agenda as an overture to Muslims.

Within hours of his arrival, Benedict stood with Turkey's chief Islamic cleric, Ali Bardakoglu, who in September accused the pontiff of harboring "hatred in his heart" for Muslims.

"Muslims condemn all types of violence and terror," Bardakoglu said.

Benedict said, "The best way forward is via authentic dialogue between Christians and Muslims, respecting differences and recognizing what we have in common."